May 14, 2012

Myths and facts about happiness: What really makes us happy ?

Myths and facts about happiness: What really makes us happy ?

Recently, on Bridge Street Chris and Kaylea talked about a survey which said that 33 was the happiest age. This made me laugh and got me thinking about some of the common myths that are out there concerning happiness. Today we are going to look at some of those myths and discuss what really contributes to lasting happiness.  And, we'll also have some tips that can help you actually increase the happiness in your life.

Myths and  Facts about Happiness

1. Myth - There is one age which is the happiest time in life.

--  Fact  - A recent study shows that happiness correlates to the level of simplicity in our lives. When seen from the point of view of an entire life cycle, a graph of one's happiness level looks like a U shaped curve. Folks are often happy in their youth because their lives are uncomplicated.

As they get  into their mid-twenties and many folks settle down, raise families and the level of happiness often drops. (This doesn't mean that getting married and raising children makes people unhappy it just means that life gets more complicated as they take on more financial and familial responsibilities as well as more stress and worry.)   

This decrease in happiness continues until the mid-forties which is often the time when men have  "mid-life" crises and women experience an "empty nest".  As folks work their crises (which is about finding personal meaning, understanding and acceptance for one's life), happiness begins to climb again.  Some speculate that because of longer life expectancy, depending on health and other factors, the peak of  happiness may continue to grow well into our 80's.      

2. Myth - Happiness is all about how much pleasure you experience.

-- Fact -  Several factors besides pleasure contribute happiness:

-- Feeling a sense of Accomplishment and Self-Worth

-- Being Loved, and Belonging

-- Helping Others   

-- Having a Spiritual Awareness, i.e. Understanding and Accepting one's  placeand purpose in life.

These important factors cause the release the same neuro-chemicals(dopamine, adrenalin, endorphin and oxytocin) that we associate with the feeling of happiness and pleasure.

3. Myth - Happiness is determined by your genes and personality type. How happy you are is a fixed reality and there is nothing you can do about it.

-- Fact -  Changes in your life can increase the happiness you feel. Genetic wiringaccounts for only 50% of our emotional disposition. The other 50% gives us alot of room for growth. In fact, as we understand the underlying neuro-chemistry which creates a sense of happiness, we know the more we do certain things, the more neuro-chemicals are released, which we experience as being happier.

 

Tips for Increasing the Happiness in your Life

1. Reality test your Expectations. Happiness is not the highest value of life and happy people are not happy all of  the time.  Pursuing happiness/pleasure all by itself would deprive or greatly reduce us from having the experiences of caring for others, belonging and loving in ways that are essential to happiness but which are not always fun. Likewise, painful or difficult struggles, while not  pleasurable all the time, ultimately lead to deeply fulfilling outcomes.

2. Work on your Self care and good health maintenance. Health and exercise are important for feeling good and feeling good is a big part of happiness.

3. Do what you're good at and enjoy.  Developing your special talents leads to a sense of accomplishment and self worth.

4. Care for others. Don't become isolated. Work on your relationships with your mate and with your friends.

5. Develop a spiritual awareness.  Real happiness and contentment comes from knowing and accepting your place and purpose in the world. As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, "Each one of us knows who he (she) is and what God expects him (her) to do."

Remember, there is no golden or magical moment for happiness. Knowing and working on  those things which contribute to happiness is what makes a difference. Our capacity for happiness can grow throughout our lifetime. Life is a journey and there is no single destination that is the key. Indeed, it is the entirety of the trip that makes us truly happy.

The Reverend Michael Heath, LMHC prepared the remarks for Bridge Street  5 2 2012.

 

 

 

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